A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jed Brown messaged me to see if I was available to celebrate his birthday by having a barbecue on the summit of the Maiden.
The Maiden is a formation in the Boulder flatirons, an arresting slither of rock located on the southern side of the city’s Open Space and Mountain Parks. From its westerly aspect, the Maiden juts out into the sky resembling the head of a cobra. The easiest route to the top involves an exposed traverse across the north face, followed by a short scramble up the east face to a surprisingly large summit area surrounded with spectacular views- a perfect place for a barbecue.
The initial impetus to host this aerial birthday party stemmed from Matthias Messner’s idea to have his birthday breakfast on the top of the First flatiron. Jed, being older than Matthias, figured he could one up him by picking a more dramatic location and replacing pancakes and coffee with sausages and margaritas. Jed’s email included a large number of friends and comments about the uncertain weather forecast. The Maiden would be one of the worst places to be stuck in a thunderstorm, particularly when needing to get over a dozen people off the top with an airy rappel. Needless to say, I was curious as to how this would all work out, but also excited for a fun evening.
I was first introduced to Jed by a mutual friend from Alaska, Seth Adams, in an amusing message that read “Jed is my good friend who now lives in Boulder. He does math more than he oughta, but has, at times, demonstrated unusual talent at outdoor sports. Jed runs and skis and climbs. He does too much math, but was once the kind of alpinist that people talked about. Joe, you’re a charming fella. You probably have lots of friends. But Jed just does math, and is new to Boulder, and needs partners. I consider connecting him with ActualLivingHumans to be my duty. Once you scrape off the crust, Jed is a pretty good guy. If you can get him away from his computer, at least.”
On his birthday, Jed had certainly gotten away from his computer. He awake at 3am to hike up Longs Peak and ski the north face with Jason Killgore, which is by no means a trivial undertaking. He was back in town before most us had drank our first cuppa. He most likely spent the morning solving math problems, went for a run at lunch and was now at the trailhead leading to the Maiden preparing gear for the evening ascent.
Once the whole group has arrived, he shoulders a huge backpack filled with climbing gear, margarita mix, a grill, meats, veggies, and 4.5 kilos of ice to keep everything fresh. He leads us all up the trail with a determined stride. It’s warm and humid and the melting ice is already dripping from the bottom of his pack, soaking the back of his shorts. I daintily dodge a mud hole on the trail, while Jed plows right through it, sinking to his calves. The start of the climb is accessed via a steep, rocky trail which involves a unique passage squeezing through a hole in a small cave.
At the base of the climb, the weather looks threatening, with dark clouds rolling in all around. We seem to be in a small pocket of clear sky, but just as we decide to give the summit a go, Ely gets a series of severe weather warnings on his phone of flash flooding, tornados, and thunderstorms. No one is too attached to getting up the rock, preferring to stay safe and grill right there under the shadow of the Maiden.
Somehow the storm just swirls all around us, without ever raining on our parade and offering a stunning display of electric fireworks. The mood is light and festive. We spend a most wonderful evening filled with interesting conversation and good cheer.
Shortly after dark, we make our way back down to the Mesa Trail and just as we reach it the storm finally hits us. Several of us start running, charging down the trail with reckless abandon in the pouring rain. Karl, who is with me, is hooting and hollering. We’re giggling like kids, skipping through the puddles and are drenched to the bones by the time we get back to the car. Regardless of one’s objective in the mountains, it is ever richer when spent with friends and as we part ways for the night, I am reminded of the words of Joss Naylor “I’ve found in the fells that there is a common purpose, whether I’ve been with a climber getting sheep off a crag, with a fell-runner or even with walking visitors, our bond is our love for these beautiful hills.”